When a teacher calls on
me in the middle of class, I tend to freeze up. And as for small upsets in a well-planned schedule?
(Who'd-a-thunk I'd need an ID to get into the State Department?) Well, they throw me for a loop.
Consequently, by the time I was sitting at a big, important-looking conference table awaiting
the presence of greatness and power, one might assume I was nervous.
Me? Nervous? Of course not! Okay. Maybe a little.
Perhaps I've watched too much
Jay Leno, but this wasn't exactly the relaxed blue-jeans situation for which I had been hoping. The
room was crowded and the conference table was huge, with a glass of ice water and a napkin that said
"Department of State" at each seat. Colin Powell's "people"
brought their own tape recorders and the official photographer stayed in the room throughout
Surprisingly, as soon as we were settled in our seats, my case of
nerves stopped. I was truly interested in what the Secretary of State had to say. I sat directly
across the table from him, and when he answered my questions, he looked me right in the eye. It
showed he was concentrating on the moment, despite the fact that it was obvious he had much larger
concerns than the questions we eagerly posed. And the crises in Iraq and Korea
notwithstanding, Powell answered each question with a focused and thoughtful mind. Even when
his right-hand man (or, at least, the guy sitting to his right) said that we only had time for three
more questions, Powell did not speed up his pace, but continued with his lengthy and intriguing
It wasn't only his eye contact and contemplative responses that made
visible the reasons why Powell has been so successful, though. At the end of the interview, when we
stood for a group photo, Mike was still leaving his seat as Olga and I joined the Secretary of
State. Powell said to the photographer, "Wait for Mike!" And then, as he was almost
out the door, he noticed the books in Olga's and my hands and said, "Oh, Maria, do you have
a book you want me to sign?" I can hardly remember my own name, never mind the name of
someone who was introduced to me half an hour ago.
After Secretary Powell left,
Olga and I each took our napkins from the conference table as souvenirs. One of Powell's men had
lingered behind and asked, "Uh, did somebody take a
Well, yes, I took a napkin, but I also took something much more
important. I took Colin Powell's answers and the history of my country and the whole amazing
experience to a place where I could never take a napkin still stuffed somewhere in my luggage. I took
it to the corner of my mind where memories are
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.